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Campbell 6th Grader Uses Social Media to Find Pets 'Forever Homes'

William Hatch, the youngest volunteer at San Jose Animal Advocates, is taking a unique approach to connect shelter animals with loving homes.

While the rest of his classmates recount summers spent playing video games or visiting relatives, Campbell sixth grader William Hatch can share what he did during vacation with a note of pride.

"When my dad mentioned volunteering to help animals, I was excited about it," Hatch said. "I was like, 'Yes, this is how I'm going to spend my summer.'"

Hatch, 11, is the youngest volunteer with San Jose Animal Advocates (SJAA), a community advocacy group that raises awareness about local shelter animals in urgent need of adoption.

His dad, Steven, said the inspiration to get involved with SJAA stemmed from watching an episode of Secret Millionaire, a reality show that sends millionaires in disguise to impoverished communities.

"We were watching this episode and all these people, who looked like they were the charity cases themselves, were working in various charities," the elder Hatch said. "It was just motivating. I grew up doing charity work and I missed it. I thought it'd be a good opportunity to teach my kids a lesson and get them involved in something."

Steven, who has a 6-year-old son in addition to William, said the family lives in an apartment building that doesn't allow dogs or cats. The draw of having his boys interact with and help animals in shelters brought Steven to SJAA.

Melissa Lisbon, a SJAA co-founder, and Steven brainstormed ways the youngsters could help the group connect pets with their "forever homes." Flyering seemed the most kid-friendly option, but William and Steven had other designs.

"As we were flyering about this dog named Stanley, William kept saying, 'I want to meet Stanley,'" Steven said. "One thing led to another, and pretty soon it evolved into me helping William manage a social adoption network on Facebook."

William's page, called Pet Adoptions by William, or PAW, has amassed nearly 150 friends in two weeks. Stanley was the first featured pet and the second, a cat named Popsicle, recently found a foster home.

In addition to launching his Facebook network, William interviewed Stanely, a 1-year-old pit bull terrier mix who's been at the San Jose Animal Care Center since May. Stanley was in danger of being put down, Steven said, as shelter life can stress dogs, making them increasingly less adoptable.

"It started as a misunderstanding, actually," Steven recalled. "I said we should interview the people who are taking care of Stanley, but William kept saying he actually wanted to interview Stanley. Eventually, it was like, 'Yeah, let's interview Stanley.'"

Steven helped William draft questions, but many, like 'what is your idea of a perfect Saturday?' and 'what are you looking for in an owner?' were cooked up by William himself. The Hatches then approached the volunteers who worked closely with Stanley to get their answers.

"I learned he's just a loving dog and he would be great for a family," William said of the interview process. "He's just an all around loving dog."

Lisbon said the idea to interview a pet, especially a breed as misunderstood as pit bulls, is a way to help a shelter animal like Stanley get more positive exposure.

"His approach was so creative and so sweet because it just humanizes the pet," she said. "You get to know the actual pet instead of just thinking it's a shelter pet that must have something wrong with it."

And it worked. Thanks to the Hatches' efforts and the dedication of SJAA volunteers, Stanley was adopted Tuesday.

"I'm extremely happy," William said about Stanley's new home. "I was speechless when I heard he got adopted."

Steven said the family will continue to stay involved with SJAA, posting information on urgent adoption cases to the PAW page and doing interviews to help people get to know these animals.

William, who said he might like to work in a shelter when he’s older, said he’s got a simple message for anyone considering adopting a pet.

"I hope that anyone who likes dogs, cats, bunnies, lizards or any kind of pet, if they can afford it and they can love it, then they would be happy adopting a pet from a shelter," he said. "If they want to, then these pets can have a forever home."

Cathy Weselby July 25, 2012 at 08:25 PM
What a great story!
Michelle Fitzsimmons July 26, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Such a great kid and a great family that got involved in something like this. I'm totally motivated to get involved with an organization after hearing their story!

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